Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Fair is fair


The issue of what is fair, equitable, results in “social justice”, whatnot, can be quite tricky. (Even without the idiocy of pushing equality of outcome over equality of opportunity.) A particular issue is how attempts to be fair often lead to unfairness.

Over time, I will gather various examples and discussions of such problems below.


An interesting idea (that I might or might not elaborate in the future) is that equality of outcome, as a goal, is something inherently childish. Note how the first entry added (relating to G-Man and millimeterrättvisa) takes place in the context of children, and how a childish mentality, and/or adult attempts to accommodate an expected childish mentality, is at the root of the issues. While such a mentality is understandable in children (the more so, the younger), it becomes a problem when adults have not managed to move on.

(There is often an overlap between parenting and politics—another topic that might see future elaboration.)

G-Man and millimeterrättvisa

Reading the comic strip G-Man, I encountered an interesting example of unfairness caused by attempts to be fair, and one that matched some of my own childhood experiences well.

Beginning on 2020-01-06, there is a story-line around the breaking of a toy robot belonging to one brother (G-Man) by the other. After various twists and turns, mother brings both boys to a toy store to buy each of them a new robot. Her motivation? She is just trying to be fair... The injured party tries to argue that this effectively rewards negative behavior, but his words fall on deaf ears.


This comic strip contains mostly surreal humor, leaps of imagination, weird super-hero angles, whatnot. A particular focus is on G-Man’s frustration with the stupidity, dishonesty, whatnot, of the humans that he interacts with. Several story-lines center on his words or actions being distorted by other parties in a manner reminiscent of what the Left so often does to its political opponents. (Note e.g. the treatment of Donald Trump, who at some point said, very approximately, “If I walked on water, the headlines would read ‘TRUMP CAN’T SWIM!’.”)

An example from a little earlier in the strip is based on G-Man’s refusal to fight a robot statue (or some such), leading to alternating accusations of cowardice for not fighting and intent to vandalize through the fight (because someone else suggested that G-Man should fight the statue, which lead to the jump that G-Man wanted the fight). Later, an arm fell of the robot and hit a by-stander. Despite the by-stander being uninjured, the G-Man was now accused of having caused a death through his failure to defeat the robot in a timely manner. (Further absurdities followed.)

Completely unrealistic? No, not at all. This case, I admit, approaches the border of the plausible, but I have had several similar own experiences, and a poorly thought-through approach to parenting might lead even to extreme of G-Man’s situation (e.g. a principle of “If I buy something for the one kid, I have to do so for the other!”, if it is applied without considering why the purchase takes place; such failure to discriminate between different situations and/or to apply a principle over-broadly is common with both politicians and mothers).

For instance, once, when I was very young, my mother brought home a few second-hand comics that she had picked up for a krona each and intended to divide equally between me and my sister. When it turned out that I already had one of the comics intended for me, she gave that comic to my sister instead, while handing me a krona to “even things out”.


The Swedish krona can usually, to a rough approximation, be replaced with ten cents (be it in the Euro or USD systems). The event might have been in the mid-1980s, so the amount is considerable larger after inflation adjustment, but still entirely trivial relative, say, the clothing, food, and lodging that my mother also paid for.

This left me puzzled and annoyed, because my sister had still received more than I had—which my mother entirely failed to understand. (This is an important point: It is not that she said e.g. “You are no worse off, so you have no reason to complain!”, which I, I hope, would have accepted as a reasonable argument. She simply did not understand the underlying issue.) Consider an original situation with two comic books each, each at a price of 1 krona. Now, mother had spent equally on us both: 2–2. Transfer the one comic book and the balance tips to 1–3. Add a single extra krona for me and the balance is 2–3. By her own standards of millimeterrättvisa (cf. below), I should have received yet another krona to make the balance 3–3.

To give me one of the comic books intended for my sister would likely not have worked, due to differences in taste. (What exact works were involved, I do not remember, but something involving “Archie” or ponies might have been plausible for her at the time, while mine likely involved some super-hero or other.) This brings me to the issue of value and outcome: Firstly, chances are that the value of this super-hero comic to my sister was lesser that it would have been for me (except for my already having it). Secondly, the value of these comics likely was larger than the price, or there would have been no point to the purchase. If we now look at outcomes (especially, with an eye at a wish for equality of outcome), what amount of money should I have been given? The question is virtually impossible to answer. Creating equality of opportunity by just giving us the same amount of money to begin with, to spend as we pleased, would have been much easier.


A text on issues like the difference between value, price, and cost, the dangers of confusing these, how common such confusion is even among adults, etc., is in planning.


However, other reasons could have made the buy-comics approach more sensible, e.g. that mother had happened to walk by a comics store or a flea market while out-of-town and taken an opportunity not present where we lived. Note how the problems arise not through a wish to do something for the kids, but through ill-advised attempts to keep an even more ill-advised policy of millimeterrättvisa—and how this applies to the larger world of politics.

Even giving equal amounts of money would likely be a poor decision in politics, as the situation is much more complicated. Even a Communist “to everyone according to his needs” might be impossible in terms of money. How, e.g., do we give fair consideration to factors like someone taller needing more food than someone smaller, on average? That an apartment of a certain size is subjectively larger for someone smaller? That a construction worker might need more food than an office worker? Etc. Note that it is not enough to have an awareness of the issue, a sufficient quantification must also take place, and that is, at best, only possible to a rough approximation.

Even for children, money could be less than ideal, if still an improvement, as no concern is given for who might or might not be how deserving, naughty or nice, whatnot. And, even for children, concerns based on e.g. size can play in, say, whether it is fair that two kids receive the same amount of ice cream for dessert or an amount adjusted for their respective size. However, within the premise of millimeterrättvisa and/or for sufficiently young children, equal amounts of money is as close to equality of opportunity that we get in many or most cases. (At least for the situation at hand. In other situations, e.g. when determining the size of a weekly allowance, other factors, e.g. age, might need consideration.)

What then is this millimeterrättvisa? (Literally, “millimeter [justice/fairness/equity/whatnot]”; a reasonable, if slightly different, image is a balance scale, where the two bowls are perfectly even.) In our younger years, this was my mother’s approach (and own term for the approach) to keep us kids happy with regard to perceived fairness of treatment. If one of us got something, the other must receive either the same or something sufficiently equivalent. If, as above, the one got two comic books, then so must the other. (The problem above is that my mother incorrectly believed that she created millimeterrättvisa by giving me that one compensatory krona.) Ditto other gifts, favors, ice cream, whatnot; ditto, had there been a toy-robot scenario, toy robots. The effect of this was, predictably, that we came to expect that each and every individual transaction contained millimeterrättvisa and grew upset when there were failures, leading to a vicious circle. (A better approach would have been to allow a greater variation in each individual transaction, to teach the children that life is not always fair and that you both get approximately the same in the long run, and to ensure that this claim for the long run actually held true. Note, similarly, how politicians can create artificial expectations and how protests can follow when these expectations, even if unreasonable, are not met.)


A few reservations:

  1. Chances are that millimeterrättvisa was a much stricter policy when we were both aware of a certain gift, act, whatnot, than when one of us was unaware. As best as I can tell, this was not an ideological obsession of my mother’s, but a pragmatic (but misguided and counterproductive) attempt to reduce conflict. What the one receives that the other is not aware of is not likely to cause conflict in the first place, and there is no point in applying millimeterrättvisa.

    Likewise, chances are that it was a less strict matter for Christmas, when direct comparisons where harder for the children, and other adults were involved, and for birthdays, which, additionally, were months apart. (However, at early enough times, there was at least some gift to the one when the other had a birthday. To give in equal amounts to both children on both birthdays would, of course, have been absurd.)

    Note the difference to politics, where (a) some political groups do have such an obsession and/or use propaganda about e.g. “social justice” for the purpose of stirring conflict, (b) some groups deliberately try to point out every difference that they find or, even, as with Feminists, try to invent differences, try to paint fair difference with a natural explanation as caused by some nefarious force, and/or show only one side of the equation. (I have repeatedly used the analogy, in variations, that Feminists note that a girl has a dollar in quarters and a boy a dollar in dimes, after which they stir up heaven and earth because the boy has more dimes than the girl.)

  2. The borders can be hard to draw. Was it, e.g., a matter of millimeterrättvisa or of (other) pragmatic concerns that we children had to go to bed at the same time? It could be either, especially as we shared a room, but it was highly ill-advised, as I was close to three years older and needed less sleep (which brought on long periods of pointless twisting and turning while fully awake).

    Political parallels exist, e.g. in that a nominal fairness is reached without regard for the underlying situation and while failing to discriminate properly. Here, we both went to bed at the same time (“fair”), but I only actually went to sleep with a considerable waste of time that I could have used much better—a more discriminating system would have sent us to bed when we, respectively, were likely to actually go to sleep. In politics, we have a similar drive for a numerical equality e.g. in that this-and-that must be 50–50 between men and women, with no regard for how many men and woman are at all interested, qualified, whatnot, nor even for how many of each might be present in relevant age groups. (In the case of, at least Swedish, Feminists, 50–50 is often replaced with an “A minimum of 50 percent women!”.) At an extreme, I have seen it declared positive when the participation in various sports come closer to 50–50!

  3. Some approximation was also often present. For instance, we were once both given some type of cash box (reservations for terminology). They were both small, but mine was larger and actually practically usable, while the one given to my sister was smaller and a joke with regard to security. Here we also see how it is better to look at aggregates: I lost on the comics, my sister lost on the cash box, and there were many other differences in detail over the years—if in doubt, because other adults need not have shared my mother’s approach of millimeterrättvisa.

    (I easily, as a young kid, non-destructively defeated the lock on my sister’s cash box by pushing aside a latch of some sort with the tip of a screw-driver, implying that hers would have been worthless for any non-toy use. At an extreme, a thief could likely have re-locked it in order to hide the intrusion. I stress that I opened it in her presence and only for the sake of the challenge; repeated attempts, by both us, failed to open mine.)

    Again, we have political parallels, notably the above example of Feminists and coins, which does the exact opposite of what is sane and sound.

Social justice by destruction

Another comic strip, Close To Home (2002-07-16), shows how attempts to make a situation “fair” can be highly destructive:

A small office or large cubicle is shown. Behind a desk, there is a window and a painter who is covering the window with paint. In front of the desk there is a distraught looking man (from context, the user of the desk). The painter says “Everyone else is complaining because you’re the only one who has a window, so I’ve been order to paint over it.” (with reservations for transcription errors).

The effect of this is that the one is objectively worse off (in as far as he gained some benefit from the window, which is not certain), while no-one else is objectively better off (except, maybe, the painter, who might have earned some extra money). To boot, the effort to make this “improvement” cost money and might cost more money in the future, if the window is cleaned up again, e.g. to reward someone who had received a promotion.


As to promotion, I have seen similar nonsense in the context of e.g. office hierarchies. One example included the placing of a cubicle in a one-man office to ensure that the one low-level worker who had been put in the office did not receive the full benefits of that office—these being reserved for those higher in the hierarchy. (I do not remember in what context this was. Presumably, a giant-single-room-filled-with-cubicles had been filled to the brim and the one guy had been moved into the office for want of other space.)

It might, in all fairness, have been that the above complaints arose on a “I want a window too!” basis, as opposed to the more likely “If I don’t have a window, neither should he!”. (With similar remarks for “I am more deserving! Give me his window!”.) This only alters the details of the overall situation, however, and both scenarios are applicable to e.g. politics. (We might then move from e.g. a “We noble Leftist politicians must create social justice!” to “We noble Leftist politicians must find a way to stop protests from the people, so that we can continue being noble in peace!”.) At the end of the day, giving everyone else a window would be prohibitively expensive, unless the building already had enough windows in suitable locations, while taking away the window from the one is much, much cheaper. The question, then, is whether the complainers are told the facts of the matter and asked to apply common sense, whether a destructive act of cheap appeasement is attempted—or whether the decision makers are stupid enough to actually consider painting over the window an act of fairness.

This approach is similar to that of millimeterrättvisa (cf. above), but with the critical difference that (to the best of my recollection) my mother never tried to create fairness by taking something already given away. Consider, however, as a thought experiment based on the original scenario, that we had been gifted comics from a grandparent, that the original counts had been 2–3, and that mother had confiscated entirely one of the comics given to my sister so that we would both have 2–2. This is, I hope, obviously absurd to all readers—yet, similar things do happen in e.g. politics. For instance, the Swedish Left has a long history of preferring equal outcomes, even if it means being worse off than before. For instance, I have heard of teachers telling parents to keep the reading habits of their children in check, lest they get an “unfair” advantage and create a “social injustice” through reading more advanced material than school provides. For instance, if different schools have different outcomes, measures like closing or handicapping the more successful school have been used when it has not been possible to improve outcomes in the less successful school.


School also often has problem of other types with similar effects. For instance, a 2020-ish trend in the U.S. seems to be to prevent schools from being selective in terms of student quality, likely in the hyper-naive delusion that school success stems solely from the schools, not the students, and with the idea that making admittance “fairer” (e.g. in the twisted sense of reflecting demographics and group belonging, rather than individual suitability) educational outcomes between groups would be levelled. (With the additional complication that it is not always clear when such nonsense is a genuinely held belief and when a mere pretext to, so to speak, paint over a window.)

Similarly, assume that the Robin-Hood mantra of “take from the rich and give to the poor” had been turned into “take from the rich—period” and where that would have left the poor. (Leftists might also note that the stories of Robin Hood that depict him as an idealist, far from all do, often have a focus on specifically “ill-gotten gains”—including those taken up as taxes, tithes, and similar against the will of those paying them.)

To continue with Robin Hood, he can illustrate how an ill-advised approach to idealism could backfire exactly through a pointless destructiveness—even when that destructiveness is not obvious. (Much unlike with the above window, but much like with modern politics.) For instance, if the losses to “merry men” incurred when trading grew too large, trade would be severely diminished and/or prices raised to compensate, leaving the people worse off than before. (Yes, they might already have the money given to them from earlier takings, but the future takings from the same sources could be much smaller. Also note that various cost increases and other problems can affect other products than just those imported, e.g. when a local producer incurs greater costs of production to pay for imported equipment, raw materials, whatnot.) Taking from the rich to give to the poor might then make the rich poorer without actually benefiting the poor.